The immigration debate
Source:Nation News - Barbados
Published on: 9/21/08.
DR RALPH GONSALVES, Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, last week responded to certain comments made by Prime Minister David Thompson in respect of Government's policy on the issue of freedom of CARICOM nationals to compete for jobs in Barbados.
Mr Thompson said he had already discussed the matter with the leadership of the Immigration Department as well as other agencies connected with immigration policy and practice "and I have indicated certain loopholes that need to be plugged right away". He also said unemployment in Barbados was much higher than the statistics tell us.
Dr Gonsalves, whose country is fairly high among beneficiaries of freedom of movement under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. described Mr Thompson's declaration as cutting across "both the spirit and letter" of the CARICOM Treaty and warned that the rationale for tackling Barbados' unemployment difficulties could result in serious problems for the CARICOM single market "of which Barbados is currently the major beneficiary".
Taken together, comments on both sides portend grave consequences for regional co-operation, even though several members of the CARICOM sub-sector are on course to shaping a separate alliance.
In respect of immigration policy, priority is now given to university graduates, media workers, sports persons, artistes and musicians, and provision is also made specifically for skilled workers such as reportedly constitute the vast majority of arrivals in Barbados for employment in construction and agriculture.
It has been argued, largely by proponents of a more open policy that our local labour force has not responded to opportunities in those sectors to the extent that they did in earlier times. The point has also been made that while most Barbadians maintain an excellent work ethic with high productivity and punctuality, standards have fallen to worrying levels among a growing number of employees.
Private sector employers cite those negatives as justification for hiring non-Barbadians. Some of them also argue that engaging migrant labour is less expensive than employing locals who are accustomed to a standard of living that can only be sustained by incrementally higher wages.
Mr Thompson makes the point that where local recruitment falls short, employers should turn to Barbadians living abroad instead of bringing in non-nationals. Barbadians fully support this principle in respect of qualified individuals.
However, the present debate is resolved, we should all make an effort to ensure that Barbados is never regarded as an unfriendly country in which to live, work and do business. Our country continues to encourage high net worth individuals and multinational companies to invest in this country and even to set up head offices here.
In our quest to look after our own, we must also be mindful of all those persons in our midst, who contribute substantially to our way of life. And we must exercise care in how we go about managing our industrial and investment culture and the signals we send to our neighbours and to the world.
Our CARICOM neighbours buy just over 50 per cent of this island's exports, compared with 12 per cent of Trinidad and Tobago's and four per cent of Jamaica's. These facts should not be lost on policymakers, especially now that members of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) are seeking closer economic ties and possibly eventual political union with Trinidad and Tobago.
It is reasonable to anticipate that such a development would indeed undermine the CSME which is already being buffeted by some members' approach to immigration policy, lack of commitment to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) and conflicting attitudes to international trade relations such as the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU).
Any further weakening of the CSME could do long-term damage to regional cooperation.